PILDAT Monitor on Inter-Institutional Relations in Pakistan | April 2020

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This monitor is meant to identify key developments during the month on Inter-Institutional Relations in Pakistan with selected high-profile international developments included occasionally. For the purpose of this monitor, the institutions are meant to be the Legislature, Judiciary and Executive.

In this Issue:

  1. NCOC formed with Commander Army Air Defence Command as Coordinator
  2. Prime Minister Visits ISI Headquarters
  3. Meetings of the Parliamentary Committee on COVID-19
  4. Supreme Court Criticises Federal and Provincial Government on COVID-19 Preparedness
  5. Prime Minister Appoints Former DG ISPR as Special Assistant on Information and Broadcasting
  6. Peshawar High Court and Military Court Convictions
  7. 231st Corps Commanders’ Conference
  8. Pakistan Can’t Afford Indefinite Lockdown: DG ISPR
  9. Prime Minister’s Interactions with Parliament’s Presiding Officers
  10. Premier-COAS Interactions
  11. US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation calls on COAS
  12. Armed Services on COVID-19
  13. Bangladesh ‘Avenges’ Sheikh Mujib-ur-Rehman after 4 Decades
  14. Lesotho Premier calls Army to Restore Order

NCOC Formed with Commander Army Air Defence Command as Coordinator

Structures formed within structures to manage COVID-19

In an ISPR press release on April 01, it was announced that a National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) has been established to work as a “nucleus for one-window operation to synergise and articulate national effort against COVID-19, optimize informed decision making and ensure implementation of decisions of National Security Committee and National Coordination Committee (NCC).” Commander Army Air Defence Command, Lt. Gen. Hamood Uz Zaman Khan, has been designated as a Chief Coordinator NCOC.

Reportedly, the decision to set up the NCOC was taken at a meeting of the National Coordination Committee (NCC),[1] a body created after a meeting of the National Security Committee on March 13 to deal with COVID-19. It must be noted that NCOC is the second structure that has been created to manage COVID-19 at the federal level since the middle of March.

According to the ISPR, in the first NCOC meeting chaired by the Chief of Army Staff on April 1, those who attended, in addition, included Federal Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Planning and Development, Interior, Economic Affairs, Communications and Postal Services, Aviation, National Food Security, Maritime Affairs, Advisor to PM on Finance and Revenue and Special Assistants to Prime Minister on Information, Health, National Security and Poverty Alleviation. [2]

Interestingly, a meeting of NCC was also held on April 1 which was chaired by the Prime Minister in which Chief of Army Staff was also present. Prime Minister also visited the Cantt General Hospital in Rawalpindi on April 1 where he addressed doctors and paramedics staff.

As reported by Prime Minister’s Office, Prime Minister Imran Khan visited the NCOC on April 3, where he was briefed by Federal Minister, Mr. Asad Umar and Major General Asif Mehmood Goraya, DG Operations and Planning NCOC, on the latest situation of COVID-19. Reportedly, Chief of Army Staff, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, was also present during the visit. Prime Minister’s cabinet colleagues who were part of the briefing included Mr. Muhammad Hammad Azhar, Makhdoom Khusro Bakhtiar, Dr. Firdous Ashiq Awan, Dr. Zafar Mirza, and Dr. Moeed Yousuf.[3]

Prime Minister Imran Khan chairing a meeting at the NCOC on April 3

Press release by the Prime Minister’s office noted that the NCOC “is nerve centre to synergize and articulate unified national effort against COVID-19, and to implement the decisions of National Coordination Committee on COVID-19. The centre is one window operation to collate, analyse and process information based on digital input and human intelligence across Pakistan through all Provinces, AJ& K, GB & ICT dedicated representatives and centres.” It also noted that “recommendations based on information/ data is then processed including health, finance, and all matter related to COVID-19 to NCC for real time projections and timely interventions by NCC headed by PM.”

Reportedly, the Prime Minister also directed the NCOC to focus on Health Management, Financial Impact, Socio-economic and Food Security, Strategic Communication and awareness while suggesting the calibrated and measured response paradigm with the evolving scenario in the wake of COVID-19.

Prime Minister Imran Khan, while appreciating the establishment of the National Command and Operation Centre and progress made by NCOC so far, said that we need to render untiring efforts for effective enforcement of the decisions through NCOC to contain the outbreak of COVID-19 across the country. The Prime Minister reiterated that there must be no compromise on availability of essential food items and sustainability of supply lines throughout the country. Prime Minister Imran Khan stressed on the need to prioritise the efforts and enforce the decisions of the NCOC through regular and timely meetings under the leadership of Federal Minister Mr. Asad Umer.[4] Hoarders and smugglers will be made an example, the Prime Minister warned.

According to the PMO, in addition to the visit to NCOC, Prime Minister Imran Khan chaired several meetings during April to oversee the government’s initiatives and efforts to manage COVID-19. These meetings were held on April 01, April 02, April 3, April 4 (Lahore), April 06, April 8, April 09, April 10 (Peshawar), April 12, April 13, April 14, April 16, April 20, April 24, April 27 and April 30 and were held in addition to individual meetings relating to COVID-19. [5]

Chief of the Army Staff chairing a meeting of the NCOC on April 22, 2020

Once again during the month, on April 22, Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa visited the NCOC where he was received by Lieutenant General Hamood Uz Zaman Khan, Commander Army Air Defence Command and National Coordinator NCOC.[6] Major General Asif Mehmood Goraya, DG operations & planning NCOC briefed COAS on multi sectoral situation, implementation of National Coordination Committee for COVID-19 (NCC)[7] decisions, projections about likely spread of the disease in Pakistan and support being extended to civil administration against pandemic. The Army Chief reportedly lauded remarkable efforts of NCOC for formulating & implementing COVID-19 response despite resource and time constraints. While complimenting civil-military components of NCOC, COAS emphasised the need for continued stratified risk assessment, managing trinity of health crisis, economic slide and psycho-social impact through efficient resource management.

Prime Minister Visits ISI Headquarters

On April 23, Prime Minister Imran Khan visited Headquarters of the Inter Services Intelligence.

A PMO Press release shared that “Prime Minister Imran Khan, Chief of Army Staff, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, along with Federal Ministers and Advisors” visited the ISI Headquarters. Prime Minister was received by Lieutenant General Faiz Hamid, Director General Inter Services Intelligence. A comprehensive briefing covering entire spectrum of internal and external challenges was given to the Prime Minister including impact of COVID-19.[8]

Reportedly, Prime Minister emphasized that no effort would be spared for security, integrity and sovereignty of Pakistan. Prime Minister appreciated the sacrifices and contributions of Inter Services Intelligence being a superior State intelligence agency

Dawn also reported that on April 15, ISI chief, Lt. Gen. Faiz Hamid met Prime Minister at the Prime Minister’s Office where “matters pertaining to national security were discussed.” [9] A photo of the meeting held between the two has also been released by the PMO.[10] An earlier meeting between the two was reportedly held on the sidelines of the meeting of National Coordination Committee on Covid-19 on April 13.

President Dr. Arif Alvi, Prime Minister Mr. Imran Khan and DG ISI, Lt. Gen. Faiz Hameed at the Presidency

On April 20, Prime Minister met with President Dr. Arif Alvi where DG ISI also joined the meeting. The three reportedly discussed “various domestic and international issues, including the COVID-19 pandemic, precautionary arrangements for the forthcoming holy month of Ramazan and Indian aggression against innocent people of occupied Kashmir.” [11]

Meetings of the Parliamentary Committee on COVID-19

The 26-member Parliamentary Committee on COVID-19 which was formed under the chairpersonship of Speaker, National Assembly, met 4 times during April. The committee also finalised its terms of reference.

The meetings, held partly-online, took place on April 6, April 9, April 20 and April 27 respectively.

Although the periodicity of the committee meetings is reasonably frequent, it is somewhat alarming that on the average more than 40% committee members were absent from the meetings despite the fact that the facility to attend via video link was also available. Since the meetings are held in-camera, the key activities of the committee regarding oversight of the actions or inactions by the Government to manage COVID-19 are not known. A more detailed and effective communication by the committee through its Chair or one or two of the designated spokespersons will go a long way in projecting the image of activism of the Parliament in the time of this crisis.

Table 1: Online Meetings of Parliamentary Committee on COVID-19 during April 2020

Meeting of April 06, 2020: In its meeting held on April 6, Speaker National Assembly announced the formation of a sub-committee to formulate comprehensive terms of reference (ToR) and draft rules of procedure for the parliamentary committee. The sub-committee included Senator Azam Swati and Shibli Faraz of ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), Senator Muhammad Ali Saif of the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM), Ms. Shahida Akhter Ali of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F), Raja Pervez Ashraf of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), Senator Mushahidullah Khan of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Senator Anwarul Haq Kakar of the Balochistan Awami Party (BAP).[16]

Meeting of April 09, 2020: In addition to briefings by Government Ministers, reportedly the opposition members in the committee criticised the government for its decision to establish a “Tiger Force” and for handing over key affairs to non-elected people. [17]

Meeting of April 20, 2020: Opposition members in the committee reportedly criticised the “ambiguous government stance” on lockdown as well as statements issued by Federal Ministers against the Sindh government over handling of the COVID-19. Reportedly, Parliamentary leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz Senator Mushahidullah Khan boycotted the meeting when National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser, who was presiding over the meeting as the committee’s head, did not give him the floor despite his repeated requests.[18]

Meeting of April 27, 2020: Parliamentary Committee on COVID-19 recommended the release of arrested traders and invited the business community to share their concerns caused by the lockdown. Federal Minister for Inter-Provincial Coordination Dr Fehmida Mirza said that there was a dire need to formulate a unanimous policy regarding lockdown in the country. [19]

Supreme Court Criticises Federal and Provincial Government on COVID-19 Preparedness

Supreme Court building, Islamabad

Supreme Court of Pakistan continued to question and criticise the preparedness of Federal and Provincial Governments on dealing with COVID-19.

One person is sitting in a room giving directions, while others are saying something else. There must be harmony among the state institutions and stakeholders to deal with the calamity,” Chief Justice of Pakistan, Justice Gulzar Ahmed, was reported to have remarked during the hearing. [20]

While hearing a suo motu case about measures taken by the Federal and Provincial governments to combat COVID-19 on April 13, the Supreme Court specially criticized Federal and Sindh governments. “The situation of this magnitude demands consensus and uniformity, but the provincial governments are going in a different direction, while the central government on the other,” Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed reportedly observed.

Specially criticising Special Assistant to Prime Minister National Health Services, Regulations & Coordination, Dr. Zafar Mirza, the Court reportedly appeared set to remove SAPM but possibly because of the pleading by the Attorney General avoided dictating the directive to remove him eventually.

Honourable Chief Justice also reportedly questioned the large size of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Federal Cabinet and remarked that even a 10-member cabinet could have been effective.[21] He also reportedly remarked that there was an entire army of unelected special assistants and advisers who had taken over the entire cabinet making the body completely redundant. “What is the justification of keeping such a large cabinet?” the Chief Justice wondered, adding that many members of the cabinet did not have a clean past rather had criminal record. “We are not even sure whether Dr Mirza is clean or not.”

Chief Justice also questioned the role of Parliament and said that despite earlier directives, neither any legislation was made to streamline preventions in the wake of coronavirus nor had the Parliament ever met to take up this serious issue when many countries had done this.[22]

The five-member bench of the Supreme Court, headed by Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed continued hearing of suo moto notice after issuing a detailed directive to the Federal Government. In another hearing on April 20, the Court sought opinion of religious authorities whether Zakat and Baitul Mal funds could be used for administrative purposes of paying salaries and meeting day-to-day expenses. The bench sought a report explaining the criteria for selecting families and the breakdown of the amount paid to them, as well as administrative expenses incurred for the purpose. How the amount collected through people’s contribution could be used for foreign trips, TA/DA or salaries, the court wondered, adding that there should be transparency in distribution of funds. “We are not getting information about how the Zakat and Baitul Mal funds are deducted and how the needy are provided the funds,” said the Chief Justice, adding that the court was not satisfied with the distribution of funds.[23]

Prime Minister Appoints Former DG ISPR as Special Assistant on Information and Broadcasting

Lt. Gen. (Retd.) Asim Saleem Bajwa, former DG ISPR and currently Chairman, CPEC Authority, now appointed as SAPM on Information and Broadcasting

On April 27, Prime Minister Imran Khan appointed former DG ISPR, Lt. Gen. (Retd.) Asim Saleem Bajwa, as his Special Assistant on Information and Broadcasting, replacing Dr. Firdous Ashiq Awan.

Lt. Gen. (Retd.) Asim Saleem Bajwa, who, in November 2019, was appointed by the Prime Minister as Chairman of the newly-formed CPEC Authority, has served as DG ISPR from June 2012 to December 2016, and is often credited for revamping the ISPR and running an effective PR campaign for the then COAS Raheel Sharif. Reportedly, Lt. Gen. (Retd.) Asim Saleem Bajwa has taken up the post as an honorary position without pay and benefits, perhaps as he is already serving on a paid position of MP-I scale as Chairman CPEC Authority for a period of four years. [24]

Prime Minister Imran Khan with his new media team on April 28, 2020

Prime Minister has also appointed Senator Syed Shibli Faraz as the Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting.

This is the 3rd Top Media Management Team in less than 3 years since assuming office. In August 2018, Mr. Fawad Ahmed Chaudhry, MNA was appointed as Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting. He was replaced by Dr. Firdous Ashiq Awan as Special Assistant to PM on Information and Broadcasting in August 2019. Eight months on, Prime Minister has yet again reshuffled his media team. [25]

Peshawar High Court and Military Court Convictions

Peshawar High Court building

The Peshawar High Court bench consisting of Chief Justice Waqar Ahmad Seth and Justice Mohammad Nasir Mehfooz, which in March 2020 had postponed announcing its decision on petitions challenging the conviction of suspected militants by military courts, continued its hearings through April and on April 29 adjourned its hearing to May 12, reportedly observing that it will not delay any more the disposal of these cases over any government excuse.[26]

The bench also allowed the counsel for convicts to formally seek the suspension of sentences and the release of their clients on bail. However, both the KP Provincial Advocate General and Additional Attorney General for the Federal Government requested the court to adjourn these hearings on the basis of pending appeals against Peshawar High Court’s earlier judgments in military court cases with the Supreme Court.

The bench, however, maintained that the petitions had been pending decision for many months due to delay on part of the government, and if the government would have had any grievance against the order, it has the option to move the Supreme Court for relief once again.

231st Corps Commanders’ Conference

Glimpses from the 231st Corps Commanders’ Conference

A 231st Corps Commanders’ Conference, held via Video link on April 7 and chaired by Chief of Army Staff, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, “reviewed geo strategic, regional and national security environment with particular emphasis on latest situation arising from COVID-19,” the ISPR reported. [27]

According to the ISPR, the forum was apprised on functioning of NCOC established to synergise & articulate National effort for containment of COVID-19.

The COAS reportedly directed all commanders to extend maximum assistance in moving critical resources & reaching out to mitigate sufferings of people in far flung areas including GB, AJ&K, interior Sindh & Balochistan.[28]

Pakistan Can’t Afford Indefinite Lockdown: DG ISPR

Major General Babar Iftikhar, Director General Inter-Services Public Relations

Addressing a press conference on April 3 together with Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Information and Broadcasting, Director General Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), Major General Babar Iftikhar, reportedly said that based on the information provided to the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC), the country could not afford an indefinite lockdown and we will have to keep our essential services functioning as well.” [29]

In another press conference held on April 24, DG ISPR also said that the figures of confirmed cases of COVID-19 are so far below projection, but they could peak in next couple of weeks. He urged everyone to exercise caution, both individually and communally.[30]

Prime Minister’s Interactions with Parliament’s Presiding Officers

During April 2020, Prime Minister, Mr. Imran Khan reportedly met twice with the Honourable Speaker, National Assembly of Pakistan and once with Chairman Senate of Pakistan.

Speaker National Assembly with Prime Minister

According to the PMO, Honourable Mr. Asad Qaiser, MNA, Speaker, National Assembly of Pakistan, met with Prime Minister Imran Khan on April 17 and on April 24, 2020.

Reportedly, during the meeting held on April 17, Mr. Asad Qaiser briefed Prime Minister on progress about meetings of Parliamentary Committee on COVID-19. The two also discussed the possibility of holding virtual session of the National Assembly as well as facilitation to Standing Committees to meet virtually. Reportedly, Prime Minister stressed on keeping Parliament active and effective during the COVID-19 crisis. He also appreciated the efforts by Mr. Asad Qaiser to promote religious harmony. [31]

In the meeting held between the two on April 24, Mr. Asad Qaiser reportedly shared with Prime Minister the positive contributions made by parliamentary leaders on how to manage COVID-19. He also informed Prime Minister that an all-party committee has been set-up under Syed Fakhar Imam to convene the session of the Assembly in near future. Prime Minister appreciated the efforts and stressed that Parliament is representative of the collective thinking of the nation and its role is critical to overcoming the menace of COVID-19 in Pakistan. [32]

Prime Minister meeting Chairman Senate on April 02

Chairman Senate, Honourable Senator Sadiq Sanjrani, called on Prime Minister on April 02, 2020. No details of the meeting have been provided by the PMO except a photo of the meeting. [33]

Premier-COAS Interactions

Prime Minister Imran Khan chairing a meeting of NCC in Islamabad on April 1 where Chief of Army Staff is also in attendance

Prime Minister Mr. Imran Khan and Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa met and interacted 4 times during April 2020:

  1. On April 1, as Prime Minister chaired a meeting of the NCC where COAS was also present
  2. On April 3, when Prime Minister visited NCOC
  3. On April 13, Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa called on Prime Minister Imran Khan. DG ISI was also part of the meeting reportedly [34]
  4. On April 23, when Prime Minister Imran Khan visited Headquarters of the Inter Services Intelligence.

Defence Minister was not reported to be part of any of these meetings.

US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation calls on COAS

(L to R) General Austin Scott Miller, General Qamar Javed Bajwa and Mr. Zalmay Khalilzad

On April 14, US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, and Commander Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan, General Austin Scott Miller, called on Chief of Army Staff, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, at the GHQ. [35]

The ISPR reported that matters of mutual interest, overall regional security situation including Afghan refugees issue / Afghan reconciliation process were discussed in the meeting.

Reportedly, COAS emphasised that amidst COVID-19 situation, we should not lose track of hard-earned achievements for Afghan Peace Process and Peace and stability in the region.

Armed Services on COVID-19

ISPR Building

In addition to continuing its work in aid of civil power to manage COVID-19, following activities were reported by the ISPR during April 2020:

  1. On April 25, ISPR, in a press release, announced that 2nd sortie of Medical Emergency Relief items from Peoples Republic of China reached Pakistan. These included PCR testing Kits, surgical masks, protective cover-all suits, N95 masks and ventilators.[36].The ISPR also reported that a Chinese medical team, headed by Major General Huang Qingzhen and comprising specialists including Disease control, pulmonologists, ICU, infectious disease and control, testing and nursing experts, arrived in Pakistan on April 24 and would stay in Pakistan for two months to provide expertise/guidance to doctors and paramedics for COVID-19 treatment at various hospitals across the country.
  1. On April 29, in a press release, ISPR shared that Pakistan army troops are continuing to assist civil administration in containment efforts of COVID-19 across the country. These include relief efforts and distribution of more than 350,000 Army assistance packages (containing basic food items) purchased through contributions of Army’s announced salary donation for COVID-19 affected people in various areas of Pakistan to daily wagers, handicapped, labourers, widows & needy people including far flung areas. The ISPR press release also carried area-wise details of relief packets distribution in AJK, GB, Balochistan, Sindh, Punjab and KP. [37]

Bangladesh ‘Avenges’ Sheikh Mujib-ur-Rehman after 4 Decades

Sheikh Hasina Wajid, Prime Minister of Bangladesh

Bangladesh government has claimed to have avenged its independence leader and father of the current Prime Minister, Sheikh Mujib-ur-Rehman, 4 decades after his assassination during a military coup in 1975.

According to a Minister in Bangladesh Government, Bangladesh, on April 12, executed a military captain, Abdul Majeed, less than a week after he was arrested. He was hanged in the capital Dhaka after his appeal for presidential clemency was rejected.[38]

Reportedly, Captain Abdul Majeed was a part of the group of military officers who had assassinated Sheikh Mujib-ur-Rehman and a number of his family members on August 15, 1975 in Dhaka. These officers were later convicted by courts and several of them were executed. Captain Majeed had been absconding since his conviction. He recently returned to Bangladesh from India and was apprehended.

Lesotho Premier calls Army to Restore Order

Prime Minister of Lesotho Mr. Thomas Thabane with his current wife

On April 18, Prime Minister of Lesotho, the African landlocked country encircled by South Africa, who is accused of murdering his estranged wife, ordered the deployment of army on the streets of Lesotho to restore order. [39]

According to international media, Prime Minister Thomas Thabane accused unnamed law enforcement elements of seeking to undermine democracy. He had earlier suspended parliament, a move which was struck down by the country’s constitutional court.

Reportedly, Prime Minister Thomas Thabane was involved in bitter divorce proceedings with his estranged wife Lipolelo when she was shot dead three years ago in 2017. Two months later, Mr. Thabane married his current wife Maesaiah, with whom he was living at the time of the murder. Mr. Thabane was charged in connection with the killing in February and has since been released on bail. His lawyers have argued that as a prime minister he cannot be charged with murder. The case has been referred to the High Court, which will be sitting as the Constitutional Court when it decides whether the case against Mr. Thabane can proceed.

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  4. It is unclear whether Mr. Asad Umer is the head or coordinator of the NCC or NCOC. In the press release issued after the NSC meeting of March 13 by the PMO, SAPM on National Health Services, Dr. Zafar Mirza, was announced as a Convener of the NCC. For details, please see: https://pmo.gov.pk/press_release_detailes.php?pr_id=3344 (accessed May 07, 2020)
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